By Katie McFadden
Rockaway Beach has a brand-new performance space and on Easter Sunday, House on the Rock Church was the first to christen the new space that will host entertainment and events throughout the year.
In their seventh year of hosting Easter on the Boardwalk, House on the Rock Church’s leaders and parishioners were rejoiced to be back at the Beach 94th performance area and to utilize the brand-new amphitheater to bring encouraging song and word to roughly 350 people on Sunday, April 9.
Construction began on the performance space in early 2022. The $3.7 million project was made possible through leftover allocations from the FEMA 428 grant, provided in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and contributions from the Office of the Mayor, Office of the Queens Borough President, and City Council. The idea behind the project, with input gathered from the community, was for it to serve as a gathering area and event space for the community, and act as the gateway to the Rockaways and the boardwalk. The amphitheater was completed in late fall 2022, too late to be utilized for last year’s warm season.
After three years of having their services disrupted by Covid and having to change locations due to the construction, House on the Rock (HOTR) was blessed with the opportunity to be the first group to use the new space on Sunday. “Being able to be in that space and being the first to use it was definitely something we were anticipating and were hoping would happen since we’ve used the boardwalk many times over the years in Rockaway,” HOTR church Pastor Garry Patrylo said.
Pastor Garry believes the new performance space enhanced HOTR’s Easter service. “It has stadium seating which means we didn’t have to bring as many chairs and it accommodates more people. Our church (112-08 Rockaway Beach Blvd.) couldn’t host as many people as this space can. And I can see how on a warm, sunny day, the shade covering can be a big help in the summer,” Patrylo said.
He added that the new space, which is in a prime location being central on the peninsula, near the entrance to the peninsula from the Cross Bay Bridge, and being in a visible area, makes it ideal for hosting events. “It felt good to use it because we had been using a spot near the concessions while construction was going on, but with this, everyone has an opportunity to see an event taking place there, so to have this in the space, those walking on the boardwalk can see it, those riding in the bike lanes on the street can see it, those walking on the sidewalk, those going by in cars can see what’s happening, and it gives maximum exposure more than any other spot I can think of,” Patrylo said.
On Sunday, those passing or stopping by HOTR’s Easter service, were treated to live musical performances, a choir of about 30 people, a solo dance performance by one of the middle schoolers at the church, and a trio of middle school girls that sang a song, before Pastor Garry took the stage to provide some words of encouragement on Easter Sunday. “The space worked really well for being able to showcase those different performances and ministry,” he said.
For HOTR Church, having an outdoor space for their Easter service is ideal. “Our main goal for doing it outside on the boardwalk is for those who may not feel as connected to attending a church and might be more likely to come to an event in what they might consider a neutral place to receive some encouragement and hope. It’s also a great opportunity for the kids to come out. In past years, we did an egg hunt and this year we did an egg roll using a long tube to slide eggs down the stairs, and we gave prizes to those whose eggs went the furthest,” he said. The event ended with giving out raffle prizes to winners and handing out candy to all in attendance.
Overall, it was a success. “Since Covid, this was our largest attendance. We had a larger turnout prior to Covid but we’re estimating we had about 350 people there, with at least 300 filling out the raffle tickets,” he said.
But what matters most is the connections that were made. “As a church, we consider something to go well when people have an opportunity to connect to God, especially on a holy day like Easter,” he said.
In his sermon, Pastor Garry provided some words of encouragement that many can relate to. “I talked about the idea that to really struggle with things means you’re putting up a fight. If you’re not fighting back, it’s not something you can call a struggle. Life is hard, but God will give you the power to fight back, so as long as you’re fighting back, with God’s help, even though it might seem like a struggle, you will be victorious.”
At the end of the service, Pastor Garry got to see firsthand that his message connected with parishioners. “After the encouraging word, we probably had 35 people who came to the front and allowed us to pray with them,” he said. “Success is helping people connect to God more than anything and we think that happened that day.”
Patrylo says though they were the first, it won’t be their last time utilizing the new performance space. There are plans in the works for HOTR to host a summer concert there and maybe even a bike blessing ahead of the summer to say a prayer of protection for all of Rockaway’s bike riders.
And HOTR’s first event will be the first of many community events at the performance space. “We are beyond excited to bring a new amphitheater to Rockaway, and it is our hope that this performance space will strengthen and foster new community connections in the Rockaways at the intersection of greenspace, art, and music, made complete with the unbeatable backdrop of the beach,” NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said. “This will be a big boost for Rockaway, and we look forward to an official ribbon cutting with the community this summer.”